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Minn. lawmakers override governor's veto

Tue, 26th Feb 2008 16:22


ST. PAUL (AP) - The Minnesota Legislature voted Monday to override Gov. Ti
m Pawlenty's veto of a $6.6 billion bill, paving the way for higher gas taxes and other fees to bring in more money for roads, bridges and transit.

The critical vote came in the House, where six Republicans broke ranks to defy the governor and provide the two-thirds majority needed to override. The final vote was 91-41. The Senate vote later in the day, 47-20, was assured since Democrats have a veto-proof majority.

The state's first gas tax hike since 1988 hits on April 1, and by fall it will have climbed slightly more than a nickel overall to 25.5 cents per gallon. It will rise in stages another 3 cents by 2012 to pay off road bonds.

The average state gasoline tax nationwide is 28.6 cents per gallon, according to API, a national trade association that represents the oil and natural gas industry.

Overrides are rare in Minnesota, with only 14 occurring since 1939. None of Pawlenty's 36 previous vetoes had been overturned, including two before on transportation proposals.

In a conference call, the governor reacted coolly.

'The DFL majority has done what it does best, which is to raise taxes on Minnesota families,' he said. 'I'm more than happy to say this is a DFL product and a DFL result with a few Republicans who helped them because I wouldn't want to take any credit for this piece of work.'

The House vote came after several hours of debate, and with Republicans facing the wrath of their party for defecting.

Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, was among the Republicans voting for an override. He said his vote came down to concern over the safety of the roads.

'We have so many unsafe roads in my area with twists and turns-- on a rainy night I'm scared to drive down the roads,' he said before the vote. 'The people who die on those roads are teenagers in single-car accidents. If we don't do something we will have some kid's blood on our hands.'

Rep. Shelley Madore, DFL-Apple Valley, said before the vote that she couldn't help but think of a man from her district -- Peter Hausmann -- who died in the Minneapolis bridge collapse this summer, leaving four children behind.

'Is his life worth a nickel a gallon? I'm telling you it is,' she said.

Rep. Dan Severson, R-Sauk Rapids, urged his colleagues to stand with Pawlenty.

'If you reach forward on this bill and you punch the green button,' Severson said, 'what you are saying to the taxpayers is, `I'm reaching deep into your pocket and pulling out all the green you got in your wallet and I'll leave you the change.''

In the Senate, two Republicans joined all Democrats in support of the override.

In addition to the gas tax increase, people with new-model vehicles face higher registration fees for a longer period than they would under the current license tab schedule. State rental car fees would go from 3 percent to 5 percent.

And shoppers in the seven-county metropolitan area would see the sales tax rise by 0.25 percentage point, with the money raised through that tax going for mass transit projects.

The deadly Interstate 35W bridge collapse put fresh attention on Minnesota's infrastructure problems, so lawmakers put $600 million into the bill to fix the state's worst bridges.

Dozens of sign-carrying supporters of the transportation bill swarmed outside the House chamber before the vote. Among them was construction worker Oscar Sletten of Owatonna, whose sign showed the wreckage of the collapsed bridge.

'This is what happens when you ignore it,' Sletten said.

DFL leaders were eager to take another run at overriding Pawlenty on road spending after a different transportation plan failed to survive his veto in the final moments of the last session. As the vote approached, Democratic House Majority Leader Tony Sertich insisted the goal was more policy than political.

'It's not about the governor. It's not about us,' Sertich said Monday. 'It's really about the issue. It's about making progress on an issue that's 20 years in the making.'

The transportation bill zoomed through the Legislature in less than two weeks, as backers trimmed about $2 billion from the package to attract support. A key move: Cutting the metro sales tax to a quarter-cent from the original half-cent proposal, which got the influential Minnesota Chamber of Commerce on board.

GOP Minority Leader Marty Seifert said his caucus will review staffing and committee positions held by the six Republicans who broke ranks. He said Rep. Rod Hamilton resigned as lead Republican on the Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Committee before the vote.

The six could also face trouble getting the GOP endorsement in their races for re-election. Abeler said his endorsing convention is coming up in 12 days.

Abeler was philosophical about it: 'This actually is evidence of what kind of member I am, that I'm willing to vote for what I believe.'



Associated Press Writer Martiga Lohn contributed to this report.



Brian Bakst can be reached at bbakst(at)ap.org



Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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